A Family Farm at Four Mile River
A half a mile off of Route 95 in Old Lyme, on a pretty country road along the Four Mile River, sits a farm stand built like a tiny red barn and lined with refrigerator cases. One morning in early spring, Four Mile River Farm staff were busy in the work room just behind the stand, packaging short ribs and ground beef for sale in markets from Chester to Greenwich.
Since 1985, Connecticut couple Nunzio and Irene Corsino have been producing pasture-raised meats and eggs at family-owned and operated Four Mile River Farm. They offer everything from sirloin steak and brisket to center-cut pork chops and nitrate-free hot dogs—and customers with extensive freezer space even order quarter sides of beef and entire sides of pork. As regular vendors at CitySeed farmers’ markets at Edgewood Park and Wooster Square in New Haven, Four Mile River Farm forms a vital link in the local food chain.
Driving slowly on the winding roads that connect the various parts of his farm, Corsino—better known as Nunz—told the the story of how he fell for cattle. “Growing up, there wasn’t much to do in Old Lyme, and there was even less 50 years ago,” he recalled. So when he got the opportunity to raise a calf through the 4-H Club, he jumped at the chance.
Working hard to care for the heifer and pay for her board was a character-building experience for Corsino and he stayed involved in animal husbandry throughout college and his early years as a teacher. When he started raising his own children, it became a family affair.
“Even if the kids were the ones showing the cattle, I could be there to mentor them, guide them, teach them,” he said. “It was a nice experience for the family.”
Corsino and his wife started raising meat for their own family’s table. When the two invited friends over for dinner, they often ended up with requests for meat, and piles of praise around whatever had been the main course. “And so before I knew it, we were in business,” he said.
Raising cattle became a passion for Corsino. After 35 years as a teacher, he left the classroom in order to devote himself to Four Mile River Farm.
The Corsinos’ livestock is raised a few miles away from the farm stand, on a pasture ringed with a low stone wall and nestled behind several large barns. Getting out of the car, Corsino greeted his steer as he approached them.
“Hey there, boys,” he said, his voice low and calming. The steer grazed and rested, free to move at their leisure from barn to field.
“Fresh air is one of the most important things that keeps animals healthy,” said Corsino. When animals are confined indoors, the ammonia that accumulates in soiled pens can “wreak havoc” on their lungs. “Even in the snow and the cold, the steer want to be outside, and they can do that whenever they want to.”
“Look at them,” he added, gesturing to his steer. “You can see how healthy they are. Their coats are shiny and their eyes clear. They don’t have pink eye. They’re not coughing or wheezing. They don’t have runny noses.”
Cattle get sick when the animals are not treated with care and respect, Corsino said—“just like we do.” He takes precautions at cattle auctions, looking for animals that have been out on a feedlot, or look unhealthy. When he sees such an animal, he keeps on looking.
It’s a business that is changing. Four Mile River Farm has competition from health-food stores, and—in these days of increasingly informed consuming—even conventional supermarkets, that provide organic options in the meat department. However, the Corsinos have not pursued organic certification for their farm.
“It can be a fastidious and quite expensive process to have those types of certifications,” said Corsino. “Every inch of the farm has to meet those specifications and that can be very hard to upkeep for a small family farmer. It’s not realistic.”
“It’s not about the labels,” he added. “I just want a quality product.”
Delivering that quality product is a team effort. Many Four Mile River Farm employees take on various roles on the farm, including helping with processing and packaging cuts of meat, as well as being the face of Four Mile at famers’ markets. In addition, the farm sells prepared food—like their popular bacon-cheddar burgers—“mainly because the staff like cooking,” he said. “And also to demonstrate what you can do with our products.”
Corsino is proud of his well-educated and experienced employees and appreciates how they represent the company. He said he tries to build up the team by respecting everyone’s talents and not pushing his agenda solely. “It’s a small family farm,” he said. “We all have to pull together.”
Four Mile River Farm plans to be a presence at farmers’ markets and at their own farm stand in Old Lyme for many years to come. “I still see us doing what we have to do,” said Corsino. “It’s been very good for us and we enjoy it.”
But what exactly the future holds for the farm will depend on Corsino’s son, Chris, who partners with his father to run the business and wants to preserve the farm for his own children.
“Not many people can say they enjoy what they do for a living,” said Corsino, ensconced in a cozy arm chair in the family’s farm house. He feels grateful for what he has and likes to take it year by year. “The nicest part about it is that I’ve mostly been able to do what I want to do. It’s definitely been a challenge. It’s been over 20 years, but I’m not going anywhere.”